We're proud to introduce a new internal Q&A series brought to the blog in honor of Women's History Month. Throughout March, we will be publishing candid conversations with women at Citisoft. Our goal is to explore issues unique to women in our industry and showcase the trajectories and experiences that have brought these women to their careers in consulting. This week, we chatted with Citisoft Principal Consultants, Maria Hauret and Dhanya Dhiraj.
Can you tell me a little about your career trajectory up to this point?
Maria: My first job after leaving university was as office manager and financial controller for a small IT and telecommunications management consultancy. I absolutely loved that company because everyone was kind and collaborative—which worked out well because I'm naturally inquisitive. Over the nine years I spent there, I was gradually pulled into undertaking client work and was lucky to get exposure to most of the big London banks and asset managers.
When I left my first role after nearly a decade, I moved on to work as an independent contractor with many of my former colleagues who were now in leadership positions on the client side. I think because I had experience and exposure, I found myself working as a consultant on some of the most exciting IT implementations in London without ever having formal training as a consultant (if there is such a thing).
My next career moves weren’t necessarily strategic, I just made sure that I was always doing what I love to do. Being in consulting has given me the opportunity to work on a diverse set of change programs which adds a lot of excitement to my work. The more excitement that is around you, the more energized you are.
Dhanya: I started in the investment banking space in India, then relocated to Mumbai where I worked at SS&C GlobeOp. After five years there, I took a break to bring up my children and we relocated to London as a family. I went back to SS&C in London but I had to re-start my career from scratch and work my way up again. It was a setback, but I was able to move up very rapidly while continuing to build relationships and challenge myself.
I love problem solving and thought about getting into consulting for about five years before I was ready to take that step. I think the variety of projects and roles is what attracted me. Making that leap was one of my best career decisions—I really feel passionate about what I’m doing.
Many people wonder about balance in consulting—there is a perception that the schedule is grueling or can’t be maintained as a long term career choice, especially for women with families. Do you think that is a misperception?
Dhanya: I would say yes and no. As a consultant you really have two roles—one working for your client and one working for your consulting firm. That can be demanding, but for someone who is in a stage of life where they can’t commit themselves too much to career growth, they can focus the time they do have on producing great client work and focus less on growing the practice. It's very important to choose a firm that is ready to accept that you’ll play this interim role for a period of time, but having a family to raise doesn't need to mean saying no to consulting.
Maria: I agree with Dhanya. Consulting isn't your usual nine-to-five, but I must admit that when I was a permanent employee, I never performed a typical nine-to-five role either. Juggling across any type of work and parenting definitely adds excitement to the average day.
I would also say that consulting provides a little bit more flexibility than in a permanent role because as a consultant, you're often given more autonomy over your time. As long as you’re delivering great work, you can often organize your time how you want to.
You both work in our London office and I’ve noticed that Citisoft’s UK team seems to have an entrepreneurial spirit. Do you agree and do you feel like this has helped you develop professionally?
Maria: I think that's a brilliant description for the Citisoft UK office. The culture here is very much entrepreneurial and it's very collaborative with a strong emphasis on professional development. I've only been with Citisoft for three and a half months, but I can definitely see the team has that “go for it” spirit. It's very much a place where you have the opportunity to play to your strengths and seek out work that excites you.
Dhanya: I 100% agree. Because we are small, it enables us to do things differently and embrace that we all have multiple ways of achieving the same goal. We try whatever works for us and I think we all learn from each other. Earlier in the week, I was in office talking with a couple people about a business area that we've never done work in and they said, “let's try it.” We got together a group of two or three people to brainstorm and whether or not we succeed, we have encouragement to explore a new idea and learn something.
Are there any women that were important mentors or role models for you in your career?
Dhanya: I have a couple of women who are friends and family who I rely on and we talk about work even though they work in different industries. In our industry, because it is male-dominated, most of my mentors have been men. They have been really supportive and I’m always grateful to catch up with them for mentoring or coaching sessions. That said, we need to change things around and see more female mentors.
Maria: There have been so many women who have influenced me and who have been mentors throughout my life. My mum and my aunt were both career women in the 1950s and the 1960s—my mum only started a family when she was in her late 30s which was almost unheard of in those days. That was a very encouraging environment to grow up in.
In terms of workplace role models, possibly my biggest influence came from a female program manager I worked for as an independent contractor. She was an unassuming person, but she cut to the chase, got results, and made it look easy—and she did it all by giving people the right motivation, the right guidance, and never being unkind or forcing long hours. I was blown away by her management skills and when I thanked her for the guidance, she pointed out that I was the only other woman managing on the project and also the only person who had ever thanked her. From there, we went on to become friends and I still find myself asking what she would do when I’m in a challenging situation.
Any advice for women just getting started in consulting?
Maria: Never underestimate how much value you can add to a role that you enjoy. Never let being a woman hold you back from any opportunities. Never, never stop asking questions.
The mentor I mentioned before actually gave me this advice and I think it’s really valuable: always take 30 minutes at the end of each day to take stock of what you've accomplished during the day, what you need to seek guidance on, and what your plan is for the following day. That process forms the demarcation between your work and whatever you're doing next.
Dhanya: Take the plunge. Consulting might not work for everybody, but if you have the inclination to give it a try, go for it. I would also advise women to not feel guilty for making mistakes. As long as we reflect on our mistakes and ensure we don’t repeat them, they won’t hold us back from growth. And lastly, learn to ask for what you want. If you don’t ask, you’ll never receive.
Thank you to Dhanya and Maria for their generosity in sharing their stories and insights. If you're interested in learning more about careers at Citisoft, please view our Opportunities here.